How to Stop Being Indecisive At Work (And In Life)


woman thinking with a notepad in front of her


Kelsey Down
Kelsey Down11
May 19, 2024 at 4:49AM UTC
Be it a fault of my personality or symptom of my anxiety disorder, I have never been the type of person who’s able to just commit. Whether it’s choosing something tasty off the menu at an unfamiliar restaurant or picking a binge-worthy show on Netflix, I usually spend my decision-making process paralyzed by the choices before me and uncertainty.
I have spent many nights with the TV remote in hand, popcorn cold, and a blanket pulled to my chin as I flick through movie option after movie option, unable to choose. Indecision has also prevented me from enjoying many social events because before I can make the choice to stay in or go out, it’s usually too late. The choice is made.

Becoming a Decision Maker

Luckily, I’ve developed a coping mechanism for this same indecision that paralyzes me at restaurants. I find one menu item I like, and I stick to that order every time. Doing so drastically reduces my fear of regret, because I know I’ve enjoyed that same meal before, and I’m likely to enjoy it again.
This is no joke, my friends: I’ve been ordering the same meal at Panda Express for seven years.
I can easily trace the line connecting my inability to make a decision to my anxiety. Anxiety is usually rooted in some type of fear, whether that’s a clear and present danger or a more abstract, undefined fear. My indecision certainly stems from feeling fear—fear of what happens next.
In other words, what if I choose wrong?

Decision Making in a Larger-Scale Situation

My job necessitates decision-making. People rely on me to make important choices every day, and procrastination is not an option. Every moment that I wait to decide is another moment when we could be putting a plan into action. If I don’t choose something, we can lose out on potential business opportunities. Every second of inaction could be another cent going down the drain.
So over the course of my (admittedly short) career, I’ve taught myself ways to fight this indecision at work. The benefits have started to spill into my personal life, too, although I try to put less pressure on myself in that sphere. Here’s how I’ve made a start:

• I’m eliminating indecision from my workplace communication.

Uptalk is that all-too-familiar speech pattern in which you raise your tone of voice at the end of a declarative sentence so that it sounds like it comes tacked with a question mark at the end. In recent years, Millennial women have come under fire for our use of uptalk, vocal fry and qualifying language, with critics arguing that these habits cause us to be taken less seriously in the office.
Now, there’s been a lot of debate about the problematic nature of policing language, and I will never judge another woman who falls back on those familiar speech patterns. But speaking for myself, it’s been beneficial to make the conscious decision to eliminate indecisive language from my communication at work. I have felt emboldened by simply rereading my emails and Slack messages to check for signs of indecision and then, if necessary, deleting words until the message reads as more assertive. (Yes, there’s an extension for that called Just Not Sorry.)
When you speak or write a certain way, you find your thoughts adapting to match those patterns. So, I try to write as if I am a swift decision-maker, and I find myself more capable of making quick judgment calls.

• I’m setting deadlines for myself.

Boundless time is actually my worst enemy when it comes to indecision. I’d be willing to bet procrastination hits people harder when there are no firm deadlines to which they need to adhere. The absence of a concrete due date lulls me into a false sense of security, believing no consequences can exist as long as I continue to delay things.
But, that’s simply not true. Even if no one else is marking your calendar, you should be, because if you let little things slide they can result in tangible, costly consequences down the line.
What’s more, I actually thrive under pressure. So, even if it looks open-ended at first glance, if I know a matter at work needs resolving, I add it to my checklist with a self-imposed deadline—and that ensures that I make a decision before anything slips through the cracks.

• I’m embracing all possible outcomes.

Like I said before, my indecision is linked to my anxiety—and my fear of what happens next if I’ve made the wrong choice. The problem is, so often in life, you simply cannot know what the right or wrong choice would have been.
But if you accept the inevitability that you will sometimes make bad calls at work (and in your personal life), then you open up more room to also make some good calls. There will be plenty of moments in your career when there is no right choice, and the most productive thing you can do then is to just make a choice so that everyone on your team can move on with their roles.
With that in mind, I’m slowly letting go of my fear of choosing wrong—and my indecision.
Kelsey Down is a freelance writer in Salt Lake City who specializes in technology, home, and parenting—and the areas where all those subjects intersect. Her work has been featured on publications including Realtor Magazine, TechSpective, and Working Mother. Follow her on Twitter @kladown23 and sign up for her weekly(ish) Lazy Mom Letter.

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